The opening of the salmon season in Scotland is always a very special occasion and it takes place on the Helmsdale, perhaps the best of all the Scottish Highland rivers. Fish start arriving in January and continue until September. According to Max Hastings, “this river possesses an intimacy and variety which charms every rod who knows it.”

As always, the pipers were ready to greet the early morning risers by the Bridge Hotel by playing in the 2011 season. The first salmon, a nine-pounder taken by Richard Bain on the Park Pool, was caught quite quickly. Michael Wigan of Borrobol, the spokesman for the river Helmsdale, said 'with Richard Bain's 9 pound fish we have kicked off to a wonderful start. It takes some pluck to go fishing in the January magic window between midday and early afternoon, but the fish on the first day shows it pays off. Let us hope for a good season.'

The opening ceremony drew guests from far afield this year, including Orri Vigfusson (chairman of the North Atlantic Salmon Fund) and a team of US filmmakers Mr. Eric Steel of the Easy There Tiger, Inc. The cameramen were there to make a sequence for a documentary film on the local celebrity, Megan Boyd. She lived most of her life in the nearby Kintradwell farm by Brora where she worked at her vice for a privileged clientele to tie what many say were the best fishing flies in the world.

The River Helmsdale flows eastwards down the lovely Strath of Kildonan and offers 20 miles and over 150 pools on six rotating beats. The glorious fly fishing, restricted to only 12 rods each day, is extremely varied, sometimes challenging but always un-crowded. Uniquely, the Helmsdale operates a fish counter that enables management to see on what dates runs occur and, in due course, assess catches as a percentage of runs.

The Helmsdale also benefits from the largest artificial lake on any river in Scotland in which water is retained purely to further the interests of the fishery. The dam at Badanloch holds back around 3,000 acres of water and this enables the management to give extra protection to wildlife and salmonids. For example, if a hard frost threatens to freeze the eggs in exposed redds at the river margins, the flow of water can be increased to cover them. In drought conditions water can be released to bring fish in from the estuary where seals may be killing too many of the fish that gather together to await a natural spate.

The Helmsdale is renowned for its scenery and natural fly-water. It is privately-owned and managed and attracts some very well-known anglers and personalities, such as Lee Westwood, the present World No 1.